On August 18, about 100 people, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, hiked for two hours to attend a somber event. The gathering was in memory of OK Glacier, which had melted so extensively that, in 2014, scientists pronounced it dead. It is the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change.
To be considered a glacier, an ice mass needs to have movement. OK melted so significantly that it no longer had the mass to move under its own weight and so no longer met the criteria of a glacier.
“Glaciers are melting all across the world, contributing enormously to rising sea levels,” she wrote. “Himalayan glaciers help regulate the water supply of a quarter of humankind. Natural systems will be disrupted.”
Two researchers, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, first proposed commemorating the loss of OK Glacier. The Rice University scientists produced a documentary called “Not Ok” in order to draw attention to the plight of the glacier. In the process of making the film, Howe and Boyer had the idea to hold a kind of memorial for OK, which is shorthand for Okjökull.
Howe and Boyer attended the August 18 commemoration.
“As we neared the site of the lost glacier, we followed an Icelandic hiking tradition where you walk in silence, think of three wishes, and never look back,” Howe told GlacierHub in an email. “Completing that last 100 meters in silence was exceptionally poignant. We were stepping forward, to be sure, but also reflecting on what it means to say goodbye to the world that we have known.”
Once the participants reached OK, they reflected on the tragedy of OK’s disappearance and on the need to protect existing glaciers.
“At the site of the memorial we had words of recognition, remorse, and— more than anything—calls to action,” Howe said.
Echoing the sentiment, Robinson told the Associated Press: “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action.”
OK’s demise and the commemoration in Iceland has already had ripple effect. On September 22, mourners will gather at a funeral for the Pizol Glacier in eastern Switzerland.
Story telling can be a powerful tool in sharing unique human experiences between individuals. A good story is thought-provoking, captivating, and can have the power to influence and inspire people and their ideas.
The Global Oneness Project believes that stories play a very important role in education. This nonprofit provides lesson plans, images, films, and other educational resources for classrooms for free, with a goal to connect people through stories on issues such as climate change, food scarcity, and migration.
“Through featuring individuals and communities impacted by these issues, the stories and lessons provide opportunities to examine universal themes which include the following: identity, diversity, hope, resilience, imagination, adversity, empathy, love, and responsibility, and our common humanity.” they wrote on their About Us page.
Stories and lesson plans by the Global Oneness Project have been featured on numerous publications, including National Geographic, PBS, and TED Ed.
One of the project’s lesson plans is based on a photo essay by Camille Seaman, an award-winning photographer based in California.’Melting Away‘ features images of the rapidly melting icebergs in the polar regions of Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. In her essay, Seaman shares her personal experience of traveling across these regions, and witnessing the consequences of climate change.
Iceland is home to hundreds of glaciers, but in 2014 the number fell by one: the former Okjökull glacier was the first Icelandic glacier to melt due to human-caused climate change.
On August 18, 2019, an event will be held to install a monument to the lost glacier. It was organized primarily by a group of researchers from Rice University in Houston. Participants will include geologists, authors, members of the Icelandic Hiking Society and the general public. In a press release from Rice University, anthropologist Cymene Howe who produced a documentary about Ok said, “by marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.”
During the event, which the organizers have termed an Un-glacier Tour, a metal plaque will be installed which reads “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” The words were written by Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason who will be present at the ceremony. Howe also said that it is the first monument to be installed for a glacier lost to climate change.
The plaque also lists the carbon dioxide concentration “415 ppm,” referring to the concentration recorded in May 2019 at Mauna Loa Observatory.
Ok is now considered dead ice. Director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project, Mauri Pelto told GlacierHub that “stagnant ice that no longer moves is dead ice; a glacier by definition has movement.” In other words, glaciers continuously build up new ice and flow as a result of that process. When an ice mass loses has those qualities it can no longer be called a glacier and is instead dead ice.
“Iceland is not the first country on our planet to lose a glacier due to increasing climatic changes, and it is not the last,” geographer M Jackson told GlacierHub. She continued, saying “we are losing glaciers worldwide at unprecedented rates.” Other countries that have already lost glaciers include Bolivia, the United States, and Venezuela and many other places are on their way to losing their glaciers.
Despite the unfortunate prevalence of glacial retreat, the loss of a glacier in Iceland is particularly poignant because of the country’s relationship to its ice and glaciers. Icelandic anthropologist Gísli Pálsson told GlacierHub he thinks glaciers “have strong significance in Icelandic culture and history.” He elaborated saying, “there is a slogan about Iceland, ‘it is the land of fire and ice,’ the name ‘Iceland’ of course highlights the ice connection, and, historically, there have been scholars on glaciers, some glaciers have been travel routes and have been located between communities without any other connections so there were frequent travels across them for trading.”
Pálsson was a member of the first Un-Glacier tour in the summer of 2018. He described the day, saying “it was a long ride into the highlands and once we got there the mountain was covered with fog and it was a bit spooky. We started to walk uphill and soon the sky cleared. Once we got up there it was stunning scenery of the nearby mountains and we walked around the crater almost in a complete circle and could soon see the remains of the sleet and ice in the bottom of the crater.” He said the tour was composed of about 20 people and they “talked about the climate, glaciers, and the history of this particular one, and plans for an event a year later which is now coming up.”
With regard to the Un-Glacier Tour II, Pálsson said “I am unsure if I will be able to go this time, but I wish I could. I’m sure this first symbolic event of paying tribute to a gone glacier will be a well attended and significant event that will later on, with more glaciers under threat, be on record and flagged repeatedly.” M Jackson also had a positive response to the event and said “I’m grateful this memorial has been created, and hope such a stunt will encourage more social and political action to meet climatic changes in the days, months, and years to come.”
The melting of Ok takes on one meaning for Icelanders and another in the broader context of climate change, but in both circumstances helps to increase awareness of the challenges that climate change will bring about as time goes on.
The chilly wind created by the speed of the boat whipped through the coat, sweater, and longsleeve shirt I wore, interrupting my thoughts on the impact my trip had on my carbon footprint. Only two other tourists stayed on the upper deck as the boat wound its way through a fjord in western Norway, near Bergen. The sun caught the top of every small wave, creating an expanse of shimmering water between evergreen-coated mountains. We were heading toward Mostraumen Strait on a popular tourist cruise in the Hordaland region.
The fjord was a deep and narrow body of water. Norway’s fjords formed during the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Glaciers carved U-shaped valleys in coastal areas that were later filled with water as sea levels rose.The same process created fjords around the world in places such as Alaska, New Zealand, and Patagonia.
Norway has one of the longest coastlines in the world at 58,133 kilometers, which has influenced Norwegian culture. Many of Bergen’s biggest tourist attractions are defined by their relationship with the sea. Some of the highlights of my time in Bergen were visiting the Norway Fisheries Museum, where I learned about the history of Norway’s hefty cod fishing industry, and hiking up to spectacular views over the fjords. Many tourists know of Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, as the gateway to the fjords and visit it specifically to see them, myself included.
This summer, I was one of the millions of visitors Norway receives each year when I spent six days exploring Bergen and its surrounding fjords. A thought I was never able to fully escape during the course of my vacation touring Norway’s gorgeous, glacially-shaped landscape was whether the choices that led to me standing on the upper level of a ferry boat admiring the scenery were contributing to the destruction of modern-day glaciers that act on current landscapes.
Retracing the steps that brought me to that boat reveals a long trail of emissions; one transatlantic flight into Paris, another quick flight into Bergen, a train into the city from the airport, and the boat ride itself are among the resource-consuming means of transport I used to reach the fjords.
The downside to travel is obvious: flights are among the most carbon-intensive activities an individual can possibly undertake. A 2016 study showed that about 3 square meters of Arctic sea ice area are lost for every metric ton of CO2 emissions. A flight from New York to Los Angeles, for example, results in the loss of 32 square feet of sea ice. Another study shows that the average American’s emissions will cause the deaths of two people in the future.
But there are benefits to travel. Visiting new places has been shown to increase creativity and foster a stronger sense of self, while reducing stress and feelings of depression. Spending time abroad pushes people to leave their comfort zones and fosters a greater appreciation for the world outside of the familiar.
One path away from the conundrum created by the conflicting pros and cons of travel is the purchase of carbon offsets. Carbon offsets aim to compensate for the emissions released over the course of, for instance, air travel by reducing an equivalent or greater amount of emissions elsewhere. Offsets can take the form of forestry projects or energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. To successfully counter emissions, offsets need to meet three criteria. They must have additionality—they need to be an action that would not have taken place if the money had not been received from the offset. They cannot have leakage—they must result in a net reduction of emissions. Lastly, they cannot be undone in the future—they must be permanent.
Some airlines like Qantas, KLM, and Austrian Airlines have programs in place to allow passengers to pay to offset their emissions. Third-parties like Gold Standard also exist to offset past emissions or to offset emissions created when flying with companies without such programs. Such programs place the culpability and responsibility to act on the passenger rather than the company that is producing the emissions and allows airlines to avoid implementing concrete emission-reduction measures.
The inconsistency of individual action led to the development of another approach: the UN Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is designed to hold airlines accountable by requiring that they offset emissions from international flights that emit over 2020 levels of emissions. CORISA, which comes into effect in 2021, contains many loopholes, though, and is voluntary for its first six years, leading some experts to doubt its efficacy.
Carbon offsets seem like an imperfect way to temporarily address the emissions created by air travel. For the kind of travel that brings us to the places that make life worth living like going on a visit to family and friends or for essential business travel, investing in offsets is better than doing nothing. When offsets become a justification for extra journeys that would not have been undertaken without a belief in the remedying powers of offsets, their benefits are outweighed by the harm inflicted by greater quantities of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and by the uncertainty of their efficacy.
Travelling, whether it is long or short distance, for business or pleasure, whether it is by plane, train or automobile, is part of the way we live. It fosters connections between people both by forging new links and allowing us to maintain ties to the past. If we were to give up travel in an increasingly globalized world, we would be giving up big and small life experiences that cannot be had by staying in one place.
If the planes, trains, and boats I took to reach the fjords were powered by biofuels or renewable energy there would be far fewer emissions from my travels: the development of cleaner transportation would allow us to continue exploring new places without the ecological impact of today’s carbon intensive travel. Norway has become a leader in testing electric planes and predicts that by 2025 electric passenger flights could become a reality. Two-seater, all-electric planes are currently being used to train pilots by a Norweigian aviation firm. Until a large-scale shift becomes possible, Norway is imposing biofuel requirements on airlines operating within its borders to cut down on emissions. These initiatives demonstrate that there are options out there that may allow us to continue reaping the benefits of travel while minimizing the harm it inflicts on the people and places we are drawn to visit.
All images were taken by Elza Bouhassira. You can find her on Instagram here.
The Himalayas have a powerful impact on the lives of the people who live near them: They have cultural and religious sway, they play a role in determining regional weather patterns, and they feed major rivers like the Indus, the Ganges, and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra that millions rely on for freshwater.
A new study published in the journal Science Advances by Ph.D candidate Joshua Maurer of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory concludes that glaciers in the Himalaya melted twice as quickly from 2000 to 2016 than they did from 1975 to 2000. “This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” said Maurer.
Walter Immerzeel, a professor in the University of Utrecht’s department of geosciences, told GlacierHub that “the novelty lies in the fact that they go back until 1975.” He said that scientists already knew “quite well” what the mass balance rates were for the last twenty years or so, but that looking further back and over a wider area provided interesting new information.
Maurer and his co-authors examined ice loss along a 2,000-kilometer-long transect of the Himalayas, from western India eastwards to Bhutan. The study area includes 650 of the largest glaciers in the Himalaya and confirms the results of previous studies conducted by researchers who looked at the rate of mass loss in the Himalaya.
The new study makes a major contribution by indicating that regional warming is responsible for the increase in melting. The researchers were able to determine this because mass loss rates were similar across subregions despite variations in other factors like air pollution and precipitation that can also accelerate melting.
Immerzeel agreed with the findings. “It is mostly temperature change driving the mass balances,” he said. “It can be locally enforced by black carbon or modulated by precipitation changes, but the main driving force is a rise in temperature.”
The analysis was conducted using images from declassified KH-9 Hexagon spy satellites which were used by US intelligence agencies during the Cold War. The satellites orbited Earth between 1973 and 1980, taking 29,000 images that were kept as government secrets until relatively recently when they were declassified, creating a cornucopia of data for researchers to comb through.
Maurer and his co-authors used the images to build models showing the size of the glaciers when the images were created. The historical models were then compared to more recent satellite images to determine the changes that occurred over time. Only glaciers for which data were available during both time periods were included in the study.
The new study received widespread media attention. National Geographic, CNN, the New Yorker, and The Guardian, among other major publications, highlighted the study’s conclusion that mass loss in Himalayan glaciers has doubled in the last forty years.
Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist at the University of St Andrews, told GlacierHub the findings should be approached with caution. “The statement about the doubling of the mass loss after 2000 compared to the period 1975-2000 should be formulated with much more care.”
“[Scientists],” he continued, “need to be very careful presenting results about Himalayan glaciers and should communicate them correctly specifically after the IPCC AR4 error, and the wrong statement about the rapid disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.”
Bloch is referring to an error that occurred in 2007, when the IPCC included in its Fourth Assessment Report an inaccurate statement predicting that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035.
“It is a promising data set, but due to its nature there are large data gaps which need to be filled which makes the data uncertain,” Bolch said.
He added that there is “clear evidence” that mass loss has accelerated in the Himalaya.
A recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional intergovernmental organization in Nepal working on sustainable development in mountains, predicts that the Himalayas could lose 64 percent of their ice by the year 2100.
Maurer’s study examines only past melting from 1975 to 2016. ICIMOD’s study provides additional dimension to Maurer’s results.
The large amount of melting that may occur in the coming decades would result in greater quantities of meltwater entering rivers. The Indus River, which millions rely on for drinking water and agriculture, receives about 40 percent of its flow from glacial melt. An increase in meltwater could augment the risk of flooding of the Indus and other rivers in the region.
Similarly, there may be a greater number of glacial outburst floods. Outburst floods occur when the moraine, or rock wall, which acts as a dam collapses. A collapse can take place for various reasons including if a great deal of water accumulates in a lake from a phenomenon like an increase in glacial melting. Depending on the size of the lake and downstream populations, among other factors, these floods have the potential to cause substantial damage. The largest of these floods have killed thousands of people, swept away homes, and even registered on seismometers in Nepal.
Once glaciers have lost substantial amounts of mass and no longer have large quantities of water to release, the reverse will begin to cause problems: Rivers dependent on Himalayan glacial melt will diminish and drought may become more common downstream. This will negatively affect farming and development in the Himalayan region.
In both the short and long term, according Maurer and his colleagues, glacier melt in the Himalayas will have significant impacts on the livelihoods of those dependent on its towering peaks.
The objective of a series of workshops on the Andean region is to generate learning, synergies, and develop inputs for the promotion of multipurpose projects (PMP) at the local-regional level that integrate management of water resources and risk management in a context of climate change. The workshops, titled “Exchange of experiences to promote multipurpose water projects as a measure of adaptation to climate change and risk management in mountain areas,” are organized by the Glaciers Project +.
Officials from Chile, Colombia, and Peru who work on issues related to climate change, energy, and water will meet to identify conditions for scaling up PMPs in the Andean Region and other territories. The workshops are expected to generate a roadmap for regional exchange on the PMPs.
Among the topics to be discussed during the two days of the workshops will be the problem of water in the Andean region, which will focus on the consensual construction of the multipurpose approach to adaptation to climate change, management of water resources and disaster risk in the framework of the NDCs. Discussions will also occur focusing on implementing PMP initiatives.
The workshops will be held in the cities of Bogotá and Santiago, the first of which will be held on April 9 and 10 in the Council Room of the Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies of the Pontifical Javieriana University in Colombia. The workshop in Santiago will be held on May 2 and 3 at the facilities of the National Irrigation Commission.
Scaling Mount Everest is not for the faint-hearted. Located on the border of Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, with a summit of 29,035 feet. Its extreme elevation not only increases the chances of incurring frostbite for climbers, but also reduces their oxygen intake, which has potentially significant health impacts like pulmonary edema and blood embolisms.
Avalanches and icefalls are also among some of the more life-threatening dangers associated with mountaineering, and these risks may become greater with increased warming. As of May 2017, the official number of fatalities recorded is over 270 according to World Atlas, with avalanches as the leading cause of mortality. Unfortunately not all the bodies of those who perished have been retrieved, due to the harsh environment. Many have vanished amid the ice and snow.
One of the perverse impacts of climate change, however, is that these corpses, scattered across the Everest slopes and long thought unretrievable, are now seeing the light of day due to rising temperatures and melting ice. Movement of the Khumbu glacier, where many of the dead bodies are appearing, has also contributed to the recent exposures. Expedition operators and mountaineers have reported coming across more and more dead bodies that are being exposed because of fast glacial melting and reduced levels of ice, according to the BBC.
The discovery of these bodies is good news for families that may have lost a loved one on Everest, but it also presents some challenges for officials when deciding on proper response to the situation. According to the article, dealing with dead bodies, both logistically and emotionally, is not an easy task. Families who learn of recovery are also faced with a formidable series of administrative procedures. For Nepal, handling of the bodies requires government agency involvement, and according to the article, getting that involvement has been a challenge.
Recovering bodies is also very dangerous and costly. Ash Tshering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that one of the most difficult recoveries was from nearby the mountain’s summit, where conditions are severe and unsafe for rescue teams. Experts estimate the cost to bring down dead bodies from the mountain, which could be between $40,000 and $80,000.
Sherry Ortner, a distinguished professor of anthropology at UCLA and author of Life and Death on Mt. Everest, said mountaineering practices in the Himalayas have changed dramatically over the years. Decades ago, Sherpas never climbed Everest because they believed certain gods lived there, and scaling the mountain was seen as a religious offence. However, mountaineering and assisting climbers has become a part of Sherpa economy today.
She also told us that although finding dead bodies on Everest is nothing new, the issue now is the quantity of bodies, and how to handle the bodies with respect. “On the one hand, recovering bodies is very dangerous and difficult, and Sherpas risk their lives recovering dead bodies,” Ortner said. “On the other hand, the mountaineering practice is important for the economy, and some may be willing to recover a body for the income.”
The families want the bodies back and treated with respect, and the Sherpas would never treat the bodies with disrespect, added Ortner. The article points out that some bodies serve as landmarks for mountaineers, which may be disrespectful to the body and the families. Proper treatment of one who has passed varies from culture to culture. As Buddhists, Sherpas view cremation as the most respectful, and westerners may want to bury their dead.
Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, affiliated with the South Asia Center of University of Washington, shared similar sentiments. Sherpa also recently commented on the issue on a BBC Sounds program. She said the news was not particularly shocking, as the Sherpas have known about the bodies and melting snow for years. However, it’s starting a fresh conversation about proper management and disposal of the dead bodies from the mountain, and it calls out authorities to act.
Sherpa added that it’s important to remember Mount Everest holds a place in Sherpa religion—the Tibetan Buddhist goddess Miyo Langsangma resides there. “The issue here is that the dead bodies should be handled with care and respect each of them deserves to maintain the sanctity of the mountain,” she said. Sherpa also said that to the mountaineers, the bodies are more than just landmarks, and a serious mountaineer understands the dedication and sacrifice that comes along with the climb.
“For them [mountaineers], dead bodies tell stories of ambitions and accomplishments. They also remind them of the risks involved” said Sherpa.
May this news serve as a reminder to brave mountaineers to prepare and take proper precaution on their journeys to the top of Everest.
The world’s glaciers, many of which have been around for millions of years, are in danger. Glaciers today are retreating faster than ever recorded. Some glaciers in tropical regions are on the verge of disappearing in the coming decades. Climate scientists and glaciologists are on the frontlines of understanding how climate change is threatings iconic glaciers, impacting tourism, ecosystems, and communities dependant on glaciers for water.
The Journal of Glaciology has recently brought on several new science editors. Although the journal is now over 70 years old, it’s gained importance and readership over the years as awareness of climate change has grown. The journal and its editors cover mostly the natural sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics as well as the impacts of climate change on human societies.
GlacierHub interviewed several of the journal’s incoming authors. They come from a wide variety of scientific backgrounds, from a focus on the Greenland ice sheets to the glaciers and water cycle of the Himalayas. Experts told us about their goals for working with the journal and their expectations for the future of the field of glaciology and climate science.
Karen Cameron is research fellow at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. As a glacial microbial ecologist, she studies the effects of microbiota on glacier surfaces, and how they may contribute to ice darkening, a driver of glacier melt. Cameron is an expert on Greenland ice sheets. In one of her most recent studies, she and other researchers examined the potential expansion of Greenland’s “dark zone,” an area of the ice sheet covered in dust, black carbon, and pigmented algae.
“I look forward to contributing towards the scientific community by helping to shape and encourage outputs relating to the ecology of glacial environments. Over the coming years, there should be many exciting developments in this field. For example, I expect to see a surge in reports relating to the effect of microbial communities on reducing albedo (surface reflectivity), which enhances glacial and sea ice melt. I also expect to see more robust estimations of the contributions that glacial and permafrost microbial communities make to current and future methane budgets. Similarly, investigations into the role of microbial communities in cycling valuable nutrients and making them available to downstream ecosystems, will likely feature. Finally, there should be exciting developments in the exploration of cryospheric organisms for potential drug development and biotechnological usage.”
Shad O’Neel is a research geophysicist at the Alaska Science Center. His area of expertise includes glacier and ice sheet contributions to sea level rise, which is consequential to millions of people living along coastlines experience more frequent flooding. O’Neel also examines seismic activity at glaciers and iceberg calving events, which presents a considerable environmental hazard. Some of his more recent work focused on river discharge in subarctic Alaska suggests a link between glacier retreat, aquifer recharge, and lowland river discharge.
“I was brought on to the editorial staff to work on papers related to mountain glaciers due to my background working on them. My goal is to help promote high-quality papers related to processes and changes ongoing across Earth’s mountain glaciers. In particular, I am interested in mass balance. At the basin scale, emerging methods (e.g. ground penetrating radar) show potential to reduce uncertainties in mass change. How we aggregate observations and use them to constrain regional mass balance estimates and/or inform models is another topic I hope passes through my Journal of Glaciology inbox.”
Iestyn Barr specializes in applications of remote sensing, GIS, and modeling in high-latitude environments. As a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, he instructs courses in glacial systems and geomorphological processes. His most recent publication compares effects of soil erosion and flooding from 1.5 degrees Celsius warming versus 2°C. Much of Barr’s previous research assesses historic glacial morphology and retreat, with substantial work done on the history, dimensions, and dynamics of the glaciers in Kamchatka, Russia.
“My goal in working for the journal is to promote glaciology in general, and particularly to continue the excellent (and long running) success of the Journal of Glaciology. One of my particular areas of interest is looking at interactions between volcanoes and glaciers (‘glaciovolcanism’). Specifically, looking at volcanic impacts on glacier dimensions and dynamics; using glacio-volcanic landforms to reconstruct past glaciers; and considering the possibility that future glacier retreat might not only be driven by, but also force, volcanic activity.”
Argha Banerjee is a glaciologist knowledgeable in the Himalayan glaciers. He is a professor of earth and climate sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune. In a recent study, Banerjee, along with three other researchers, evaluated the effects of avalanches on mass balance in glaciers. They developed methods to attempt to quantify net avalanche contributions to mass balance, a feat which hasn’t been done before, and applied their methods to three Himalayan glaciers.
“My academic and personal experience over the past few years have made me appreciate the strong connections that Himalayan glaciers share with Himalayan climate, water cycle, landscape evolution, ecology, and so on. To be able to explore these connections is what makes Himalayan glaciology fascinating to me. I would love see more articles related to Himalayan climate, hydrology, and geomorphology in the journal. More studies of Himalayan snow/precipitation processes over all scales, too. I think we need to do a bit more about some of these gap areas to gain more confidence on the projections that we are making.”
Elisabeth Isaksson studies climate history and variability through analyzing ice cores in the Arctic and Antarctic. She is a senior research scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute. Isaksson is also interested in organic contaminant pollution in snow and ice from Svalbard. Some of her previous work looks at amplified levels of black carbon in the Arctic and the impacts from climate change in the region. In places like Tibet and the Arctic, black carbon concentrations on glaciers are becoming well understood by scientists to be a strong force for increased retreat and melt.
“In the three decades that have passed since I started working with polar glaciers, the situation and challenges related to glaciology have indeed changed a lot. Back in the 1980s, we just started looking for signs of any changes that could be related to global climate warming in the Antarctic; now the signs are obvious, and things are changing rapidly. To make progress and move science forward I think that we need to find new ways of working together across scientific disciplines, which at times can be time-consuming and challenging because of our traditions in scientific training. There are also new scientific areas related to melting glaciers that are particularly interesting; one example is biological production (bacterial biomass, for instance) both on melting glaciers and at glacier fronts. As a scientific editor for an important glaciological journal I am looking forward to learn more about these research fields.”
In this week’s Roundup, read about lichen colonization on Svalbard’s glaciers, mercury inputs from glacial rivers in High Arctic Canada, and the impact of both climate change and globalization on a small village in the Indian Himalayas.
Lichen Colonization on Svalbard’s Glaciers
From Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae: “The high number of lichen species that were new to Svalbard indicates the need for further research on the biodiversity of lichens in the Arctic. In particular, the glacier forelands deserve attention if further warming of the climate continues, as species sensitive to competition from vascular plants will move into habitats in the vicinity of glaciers.”
From Environmental Science & Technology: “Glacial rivers were the most important source of MeHg and THg to Lake Hazen, accounting for up to 53% and 94% of the inputs, respectively. However, due to the MeHg and THg being primarily particle-bound, Lake Hazen was an annual MeHg and THg sink…This study highlights the potential for increases in mercury inputs to arctic ecosystems downstream of glaciers despite recent reductions in global mercury emissions.”
For more detail, click here to read GlacierHub’s recent post regarding this study.
“Double Exposure” in Indian Himalayan Communities
From Environmental Science & Policy: “This study uses a living with approach to explore how change and development was experienced by a small agricultural community in the Indian Himalayas. The findings reveal ‘double exposure’ to an increasingly deficient water supply, and aspects of globalisation.”
UNESCO recently published a report which addresses the effects of global warming on the glaciers of the Andes. The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas examines the changing climate patterns across western South America, as well the historical and projected rates of retreat of important glaciers in the region. Increased melting will impact societies reliant on glaciers for water resources. The eventual loss of glaciers presents a challenge for countries to address.
The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world, spanning the western edge of South America through several countries. These mountains are considered to be the water towers for the surrounding populations. They provide water to about 75 million people living within the Andes region and 20 million downstream along surrounding rivers. The Andes continue to have a significant influence on local cultures and economies. The impending loss of these glaciers may cripple dependent communities, industries, and various sectors across South America.
Key Messages and Future Projections
The atlas identifies several key messages essential for discerning the changes in the Andes. Projections indicate that temperatures in the tropical Andes could increase between 2°C and 5°C by the end of the 21st century. The recent IPCC SR1.5 report emphasized the devastating effects of just 1°C of warming, such as extended periods of drought and extreme global heat events. The Andes will likely experience increasingly hotter years with warming driving further glacier retreat.
The report notes that changes in precipitation are harder to project than temperature changes. Nonetheless it presents serious concerns for some regions across the Andes. The atlas refers to the IPCC for precipitation projections. In the southern Andes region, precipitation will greatly decrease by the end of the century, including Chile and Argentina in particular. These regions will likely experience drought events, and loss of glaciers may be devastating to the environment and its people.
Scientists have also observed rapid retreat in glaciers in the tropical Andes, as well as lower-altitude glaciers. According to the atlas, one glacier which remains in Venezuela will likely disappear by 2021. Many large tropical glaciers exist in Peru, including Quelccaya Ice Cap, which may disappear by 2050 at the current rate of warming. Glaciers are also quickly retreating in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. This retreat and volume loss of glaciers is “locked in,”and glaciers will continue to retreat no matter what. Even with a moderate level of emissions, the IPCC projects that barely a fifth of the glaciers will remain by the end of the century, with some reduced to barely 3 percent of their current size.
Impacts of Retreating Glaciers
The loss of glaciers and glacial meltwater is inevitable. As warming continues, a majority of glaciers will soon experience “peak water” (which occurs when melting exceeds new mass accumulated by snowfall), likely within the next 20 years. Many tropical Andes glaciers already reached peak water in the 1980s and have been outputting less water since. Although many countries will benefit from peak water, the aftereffects of less meltwater outflow will heavily strain the available water supply.
Bolívar Cáceres, a specialist of the tropical Andes who worked on the atlas, told GlacierHub about some of the effects of glacier retreat and possible methods for adapting to water scarcity. “One of the indirect effects of long-term melting in communities is the reduction of visitors. Since glaciers no longer exist in some places or become very difficult to climb, tourists are currently opting out and most likely will go to other places in the future,” he said. This will affect local economies that depend on tourism flow and the resources generated. As for adaptation, Cáceres believes that promoting technologies in agriculture and livestock areas to better manage water resources is essential for sustainability.
Water quality will also be affected by the loss of glaciers. Bryan Mark, an expert on Andes and Peruvian glaciers, added: “Recently glacier-free landscapes feature lots of unconsolidated materials that tend to result in more sediment laden, erosive, and ‘flashy’ discharge streams.'” Sediment pollution presents a number of problems for the water supply, including degrading the quality of drinking water for locals and their livestock. Mark also highlighted the importance of diversifying water reservoir resources, utilizing groundwater, small dams, and precipitation capture as alternate water resources.
Efficacy and Practicality of Policy Recommendations
The atlas examines the significance of glacier retreat on communities. It provides policy recommendations for countries to sustainably secure future water availability. Some examples include implementing preventative measures for natural glacier-related hazards and developing climate services for water resource management. Although these recommendations are intended to provide direction towards sustainable water supply management, there are concerns of clarity, implementation, and effectiveness of these policies.
Dirk Hoffmann, an expert on glaciers in high mountain ecosystems, commented on the effectiveness of the policy recommendations on communities. “The policy recommendations are all very interesting, but on the whole seem to be somewhat too general as to be useful to specific decision maker,” he said. Hoffmann views the recommendations as well intended and believes the atlas to be effective in raising awareness of these issues. In a practical sense, however, they are too far removed to help decision makers, he said. A clear indication as to whom these recommendations are directed towards would be beneficial.
Mark Carey, an expert of the Peruvian Andes, shared similar thoughts on the effectiveness of these recommendations. Carey stated that the lack of social science and humanities research on vulnerability and unequal impacts of shrinking glaciers is an issue. “Vulnerability is framed in ways to conceptualize homogenous ‘affected populations,’ such as those in agriculture or urban areas, rather than understanding the complicated social divisions and power imbalances embedded in the diverse social groups,” he said. Carey added that although the science is necessary, the complex human dimensions of climate change adaptation are essential.
The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas recognizes the importance of improving interactions between science and policy, bringing awareness of key issues surrounding the loss of glaciers in the Andes. This is a major step towards successful adaptation; climate scientists, social scientists, and policymakers will need to collaborate to effectively allocate resources for sustainable management of the challenges associated with glacier retreat.
This week’s video follows the commencement of the UN Climate Change Conference 2018, COP24. This year’s conference is located at Katowice, Poland. The conference, which takes place from 2-14 December, has definitely gotten many people riled up about climate change. Over 65,000 people came out for the “Claim the Climate” demonstration on Sunday, 2 December in Brussels, Belgium. Protestors marched through the Belgium capital toward the European Union headquarters, holding banners saying “Stop Climate Criminals” and “There is no Planet B.” As voiced in the video, they hope to raise awareness on the pressing concerns of climate change and put pressure on political leaders to take action.
Just 11 degrees south of the North Pole, mountain bikers Darren Berrecloth, Carson Storch, Tom Van Steenbergen and Cam Zink cut through the ice to the glaciers of Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut, Canada. Red Bull Media House’s recent film, “North of Nightfall,” follows their monumental journey through the quickly melting Arctic.
Around 2,000 glaciers have carved out massive slopes in the region. There is little to no vegetation; the area is particularly exciting— and dangerous— for mountain bikers with great peaks, long lines and essentially untouched terrain.
Home to polar bears, Arctic wolves, narwhals and blue whales, the land has not been inhabited by humans since the Thule people. Ancestors of the Inuit, the Thule lived on the island for over 200 years. By the 1960s, a remote research station was established on the island to observe glaciers and study the impacts of climate change. Now there are no permanent residents, except for a few researchers, wildlife surveyors and other explorers who visit during the summer months when there is a short window (only about a month) of permitting weather.
The island has one way in and one way out. Small planes use the tundra for take-off and landing; there is no formal airport. Pilots must use an off-strip landing place. A plane dropped the athletes off with enough equipment for three weeks— food, bikes, camera gear, and anything else they would need to survive and ride.
The filmmakers used drone footage to capture the scenery of the Arctic and the skill of the biking. Hiking up the mountain with the weight of their bikes, the athletes turn, speeding down rocky, thousand-foot cliffs. They fly through the air, twisting, turning and throwing tricks. The intensity of these tricks sends shivers down the spine. Seeing men suspended in mid-air, seemingly weightless, not even holding on to the handlebars, is awe-inspiring.
With a hospital more than 10 hours away, doctor Clark Lewish was in charge of safety and all things medical. He brought a fully-packed first-aid kit including a defibrillator, oxygen supply, syringes, equipment for IVs, gauze (of course), bandages and antiseptic. Thankfully, most of the equipment was never used. However, at one point, Lewish did have to pop Zink’s shoulder back into place.
Other members of the expedition were crew personnel including the expedition’s leader Françoise Gervais, guide and Inuit member Apak Taqtu, and glacial researcher Laura Thomson.
A Nunatsiaq Newspaper, ‘Nunatsiaq News,’ express concern with Red Bull filming in this location. The island is a rich fossil site and there are in fact archeology sites within 25 kilometers of the camp, but it is the expedition leaders duty to ensure that the group does not infringe on these sites. Though there is a guide leader, there is concern about garbage being left behind and disturbance of the land.
The film aims to increase awareness of climate change in the Northern Arctic by showing the audience the sensitive habitat. The hope is that when people see the vastness of the Arctic, they will be moved to protect and preserve it.
“The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will,” a quote from Chuck Palahniuk, begins the film. These words can be applied to the greater sport of mountain biking and achievement, as well as to the legacy humans leave behind.
Glacial retreat in this area has catalyzed over the last fifty years due to anthropogenic warming. Even if humans were to completely stop emissions today, our world would still heat by about 0.6 degrees Celsius, causing the glaciers to continue to retreat. In addition, the current ice melt in the region has opened alternate (and shorter) shipping routes for cargo ships that would have otherwise relied on the Panama Canal. This Northern Sea Route would create a shorter shipping passage between Japan and Northern Europe. Ship access and the continued ice melt threatens a variety of species that have evolved for tens of thousands of years in harsh Arctic climates.
By reflecting on the human influence on the region, the filmmakers shift the viewers’ attention inward to reflect upon individual actions and what can be done to preserve and protect this inspiring place. Allowing people to see the wonder of the Arctic and understand the sensitivity of the habitat, instills hope that humans will be more invested to protect it. Take a look at the film, and decide for yourself.